James Welling’s art is one of intense dedication to a subject – a deep, complicated exploration of a theme. As a viewer, it’s your choice if you want to join the American artist on his photographic journey, or just take his images at face value. ‘Wyeth’ is an ongoing project that sees Welling documenting the places painted by the great American realist Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) – whose works include ‘Christina’s World’, one of the best-known American paintings of the twentieth century.
Taken in Maine and Pennsylvania, the photographs act as a kind of homage to the painter, with Wyeth’s realist beauty recaptured by the harsh, stark glare of a digital camera. Welling goes beyond Wyeth’s landscapes, seeking out his studio and the places he lived. The result is a series of images of a desolate America, a place filled with grey abandoned churches, derelict houses in foggy fields and dead husks of corn – all crumbling to dust.
It’s a sad, sumptuous collection, full of longing and death. But, without a deep familiarity with Wyeth’s work, it’s difficult to go with Welling on his photographic quest, as much as you might want to. Playing upstairs (and not part of the series) is a ten-minute film made by Welling in 1971. Showing an iron pole hanging balanced above a snowy field, it’s another study of cold desolation – an illustration of Welling’s enduring themes. Bleak but strikingly beautiful.